Rationalist group flays mock funeral practice

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Palanpur, Gujarat, Oct 19 (UNI) The Gujarat Unit of the Bharat Vignan Jatha has strongly criticised the practice of organising a mock funeral by the Brahmin community in Kheralu, about 35 kilometres from Mehsana, on the seventh day of Navratri.

On the seventh day of Navrati, members of the community, all attired in white clothes, gather at Shrimali Vado in Kheralu to mourn the dead.

A young man is chosen to play the role of a dead person. The young man is first taken to the temple and, after completion of the rituals, is laid on a saddle and covered with a white sheet. The ''dead man'' is then carried in a procession with chest-beating women following the entourage. The ''dead man'', however, comes alive and can be seen enthusiastically participating in the ''garba'' dance later in the evening.

This is over a century-old tradition and is religiously followed to avoid the wrath of Gel Goteswari Mata, the village deity, say elders of the community. The elders say the community had migrated from Rajasthan and settled here some 300 years ago without the permission of the Goddess which had led to diseases and untimely deaths. The tradition is, therefore, followed to appease the Goddess.

The Bharat Vignan Jatha, however, is against the practice. Such superstition will only mislead the youth, says its president Jayant Pandya.

The Jatha had met Mehsana District Collector Ajay Bhadu and District Superintendent of Police Raju Bhargwa and urged them to stop the practice. But, both of them have expressed their inability to interfere so long as the practice is not prejudicial to the law.

The Brahmins, on their part, have taken strong exception to the interference by the Jatha. Fifty eight-year-old Pravinbhai Shukla, a member of the Audichya Brahmin community, says, ''We support the traditional rituals as these have been practised over hundreds of years by the Shrimali Brahmins.'' Kishorbhai Rawal, a representative of the Tapodhan Brahmin community, says, ''No one has the right to interfere in the traditional affairs of a particular community.'' UNI

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